Rockets Hit Stratosphere in 27-Point Blowout of Jazz

November 5th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

Alec Burks (10) was just one of a handful of Jazz defenders helpless to stop James Harden (13) in his career scoring night. (Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

Story of the Game

The modern NBA is driven by the three point shot and tonight Houston used it to obliterate Utah’s number three league defense.

The Rockets hit 23 long range bombs on only 39 attempts, shelling the Jazz off the floor early and never letting them back into the contest. 59 percent shooting from three is nigh impossible to overcome against any team. Against Houston, who takes more of their field goal attempts from long range than any team in the NBA, it’s impossible. If the Rockets shoot this way – and entering the night they were 28th in the league at 32 percent from three, so there was no reason to expect they would or will often in the future – no one will beat them.

James Harden will deservedly get most of the credit for the rout. The Beard put on one of the most impressive offensive displays in the history of the sport. He scored 56 points, one shy of Calvin Murphy’s franchise record, unfathomably on only 25 shots. That’s 2.24 points per shot attempt! That he added 13 assists is almost an afterthought. The only players in NBA history to score 56 or more points on 75 percent or better shooting are Kevin McHale (56 points on 28 field goal attempts), Michael Jordan (59 points on 27 field goal attempts), and Karl Malone (in his legendary game against the Bucks where he scored 61 on 26 shots).

Houston’s domination was made total by Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, and Ryan Anderson combining for 12 made threes on 23 attempts. Added to Harden’s historic night, this made the Rockets impossible to beat. Just look at this shot chart for these four players through three quarters (all the midrange shots are Harden).

(NBA.com)

This never gave Utah a chance. They looked shocked and on their heels all night.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: James Harden

Sometimes a performance is so exquisite that honors need be accorded regardless of the player’s team. Through three quarters, Harden hadn’t missed a shot, including making all seven three point attempts. He had 54 points, already a new career high, entering the fourth quarter. He was simply awesome.

Secondary Star: Donovan Mitchell

Despite coughing up the ball five times, the rookie was once again Utah’s best player. He scored 17 points on 13 shots, including making 3 of 7 from long range, and added a team high 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal. Mitchell has now led the team in scoring four times this season, more than any other player. It’s time to entertain the notion that he might actually lead the team in scoring this year.

Secret Star: Derrick Favors

Favors has quietly maintained offensive efficiency even as his number of field goal attempts has dropped and his game has shifted out on the floor. Tonight he achieved a fairly remarkable statistical combination for a player once cast in a Dwight Howard mold: making two threes, a first in Favors’ career, on three attempts and adding a trio of steals. On a night that gave Utah little bright side, that combination must provide at least some optimism as the Jazz ask Favors to more and more frequently drift out to the three point line both offensively and defensively.

Stats of the Game

115 – The Rockets’ points through three quarters. Utah scored 115 points in entire games all of five times last season.

21 – Houston turnovers, which is good evidence for the increasingly common perspective that turnovers may not be as inherently damaging as traditionally thought. The emerging theory is that the harm is primarily in situational turnovers, such as those that fuel fast breaks.

Minus-35 – Alec Burks plus-minus, which detracts from what was otherwise a solid statistical night: 10 points on 8 shots, including 2 of 3 from three and making both free throws while adding three rebounds, an assist and a steal. It would be great to see Burks reclaim a measure of the poise and impact he displayed in the preseason. Utah really needs another shot creator.

4/0 – Blocks by Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert respectively.

59 percent – Houston’s accuracy from both the field and the three point line. They rounded that out by making 18 of 21 free throws (86 percent).

7 – Jazz players in double figures, an offensive strategy that only works when Utah’s defense holds up its end of the bargain.

19 – Scoring advantage for Utah’s bench over Houston’s, largely because of the abundant garbage minutes.

Sundries

  • I wrote above that Mitchell may lead the team in scoring by season’s end and with good reason. He continues to take more shots than any other Jazz player and I expect this to continue. Rodney Hood (12 points on 10 shots but only 1 of 6 from three) has shown no ability to get his own shot, get easy shots, or get to the free throw line. Those expectations of his serving as a primary scorer look laughable now. Neither Ricky Rubio nor Joe Ingles can create their own shots either, at least not shots Quin Snyder wants them to take. In theory, Burks can get a shot when he wants or Favors could get a jump shot on practically any play1, but practically speaking there is zero chance Snyder channels much of Utah’s offense through these options.¬† That leaves Mitchell as the likely candidate for most shot attempts on the season, which makes becoming the team’s high scorer on the year a real possibility.
  • Through five games, Rubio looked to be delivering exactly what Dennis Lindsey forecast when he traded for the Spaniard: a version of Jason Kidd. He amassed three double digit assist games in that span after no Jazz player achieved that all of last season. But in the last six games Rubio has a game-high six assists, and that only once. He’s had a mere three for three games in a row. With defenses taking away the roll man off of picks, be that Gobert or Favors, Utah’s motion offense is grinding to a halt. At the moment, Rubio has displayed no ability to prod it back into motion in that situation except for by shooting himself. That wasn’t the plan.
  • One of very few entertaining moments of the night was when Gobert received the ball at the top of the key and crossed over Capela from right to left then drove to the wide open hoop for a gentle lefty layup. It was another flicker of shocking skill for the towering player, the type of play that makes one wonder if one day some type of complete game will emerge from Utah’s franchise player.
  • The Jazz gave up 39 and 48 points respectively in the first and third quarters. Mathematically, it’s hard to see how that could be literally possible given Utah’s defensive talent barring explosive three point shooting. Utah knew the Rockets offensive is entirely predicated upon three point shots and wasn’t able to prevent them. Given the Jazz’s competitive strategy this season, that is simply unacceptable. Better to give up layups than so many threes, particularly with Gobert in the paint.
  • A worrying trend is blossoming this season. When Utah’s starting guards shoot well, the Jazz are hard to beat. But that is far from a given. Tonight, Hood and Rubio shot a combined 2 of 11 from three. With the team’s limited scoring options, that type of marksmanship from the guard line is likely to correspond to losses frequently throughout the year. If Rubio can’t find a way to get his wings better shots with the pass, Snyder will continue to rely more than he wants on Mitchell’s shot creation, and may be pushed to extend more minutes to Burks for the same reason.

Still winless on the road, Utah will try to recover its defensive identity against the upstart – and shooting challenged – Sixers on Tuesday.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

3 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    I was left to wonder why the Jazz didn’t post Favors up on Ryan Anderson all game long. Favors was consistently taking position on offense about 12-20 feet from the basket when he could have probably murdered Anderson down low, got him in foul trouble, and knocked out one cylinder of the Houston high-octane 3-point offense by getting Anderson in foul trouble. Instead, setting up where he was setting up on offense allowed Anderson to defend him somewhat effectively–or at least without having to foul him, which kept Anderson in the game.

    Also, I thought the refs were not going to call fouls any more on that nonsense wherein a player (such as Harden) does an odd flop and flails into a defensive player while throwing up a pretend shot. I saw the refs call a foul on Ingles twice on that type of obvious flop maneuever by Harden last night (and there may have been more, but I couldn’t force myself to watch the whole game last night).

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Productive offense in the post is harder than its ever been given current NBA defenses, which apply lots of zone principles and invite the skip pass as a difficult counter. That said, it’s still possible, but it requires really good timing between the post player taking and holding deep position and the ball handlers with the entry pass. Utah isn’t very good at any portion of that formula: neither Favors nor Gobert are particularly good at holding onto deep position and the perimeter players aren’t as accurate or on-time with entry passes as needed. Unfortunately, the best post entry passes often come from one of the bigs themselves in the high-low post set, which the team doesn’t run as much as I wish they would.

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